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in 2010 



spring... iRBi 

55 Sutter Si 

Suite BSR 

Sen Francisco, Ca. 

••hello out there 

This is the first issue of Pro- 
cessed World. We hope it will 
serve as a contact point for office 
workers who are dissatisfied with 
their lot in life and are seeking 
something better. The current 
situation of most clerical workers, 
secretaries, and "processors" of 
various sorts is our starting place: 
meaningless work with little ma- 
terial reward in a deteriorating and 
self-destructive social system. 

The opening article offers a 
compelling description of the in- 
dividual mired {but not hopelessly) 
in Corporate Office Land. From 
there we go to the Blue Shield 
strike, which is still going on as we 
go to print. This trade union-based 
attempt of office workers to im- 
prove their situation has run up 
against institutional and strategic 

The following article, "New 
Information Technology: For 
What?" has undergone intensive 
discussions among the writers and 
editors of PW. After a brief 
economic analysis of automation in 
the office it broaches the touchy 
subject of whether or not com- 
puters — and high technology in 
general— are inherently oppres- 
sive. Also discussed are some of 
our ideas of how a society based on 
free social relations can put new 
information technology to use. 

Next is a short story about 
insurrection in San Francisco in 
1987, beginning with the occupa- 
tion of the Bank of America build- 
ings by the workers inside. A 
review of the movie "9 To 5" 
concludes our first issue. Holly- 
wood's attempt to address the 
reality of office work gets lost and 

distorted in improbability and easy 

We hope these articles {and 
those in other issues to come) will 
begin to challenge the assumptions 
upon which this society is built. At 
the root of this effort is our desire 
to live and take part in a radically 
different social system, a society 
which as yet exists nowhere on 

These new forms of social exis- 
tence begin with communication, 
with breaking down the barriers 
that isolate us and finding different 
ways to express our feelings and 
thoughts. With a shared under- 
standing of the fears, desires, and 
pleasures of our daily existence, 
we can counter the false images 
and stereotypes encouraged by 
those who want to keep us in our 

In a world where so much of our 
time is wasted on boring tasks or 
ridden with anxieties, it is impor- 
tant that we experiment with ideas 
and activities that are in them- 
selves enjoyable. Rebellion can be 
fun, and humor subversive. Only 
by cultivating our imagination and 
talents will we able to find ways to 
shatter the existing order. 

Write to us. Tell us about your 
situation — where you work, what 
conditions you work under, what 
kinds of resistance you are already 
involved in, how you coordinate 
your activities with coworkers, etc. 
And write to us about your dreams. 
What kind of a world would you 
like to live in? What would you do 
with yourself if you could do what 
you enjoyed instead of what you 've 
been forced to do to make a living? 

n , ai... 

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New information tEchnologLj: 

for what ? 15 

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prEttLj vacant \ L.Q 

44 Oh brother, another day... and I'm gonna be 
late already. Maybe I should call in sick?.." 


Manuscript Found 
In A Typewriter 

There was a feeling of uncer- 
tainty involved in my returning to 
work after a long vacation, com- 
pounded in equal measures of 
disgust and relief. Disgust, be- 
cause I had to submit once again to 
wage-labor in general and to the 
peculiar rituals of corporate life in 
particular. Relief, because my 
survival conditions were not going 
to be as precarious as I had feared 
earlier that week. Somebody who 
surrenders to a blackmail scheme 
must feel the same way: despite 
his attempts to reassure himself 
that he is doing the right thing 
under the circumstances, after all, 
consider the alternatives, what 
else can you do, and so on, he 
cannot conceal from himself the 
humiliation that lurks at the bot- 
tom of his stomach... 

Still, there was more than money 
and phony security to be gained 
from going back to the nine-to-five 
boogaloo. Two months away from 
the routine had given me ample 
time to divest myself of the habits 
and rhythms this routine imposes 
on even the most rebellious indivi- 
dual. If I had to go back to work 
whether I felt like it or not, at least 
it would be with a fresh outlook. 
Since what is familiar is not known 
simply because it is familiar— 
since the pressures and constraints 
of daily life make it difficult for 
most of us to perceive their social- 
historical roots— distancing our- 
selves from the totalitarian im- 

mediacy of work can help us 

understand it better, and hence 

subvert it. Why else do so many 

people fuck off on the job, if not to 

attain that distance? 

The office in which I was to be 
working for the next few weeks 
was a franchising operation that 
contracted out secretarial services 
to clients, among other things. But 
I only found that out a few hours 
after I had begun work; im- 
mediately after I walked in, intro- 
duced myself to the supervisor, 
and found an empty desk, I was 
put to work transcribing a tedious 
legal document, dictated by a dis- 
embodied individual who sounded 
as if he made it a habit to speak 
with pebbles in his mouth. 

What struck me about this was 
that my supervisor had tacitly 
assumed that what counted in this 
job— as, no doubt, with hers— was 
the what and not the why. You had 
a job to do and you did it. And 
since that unwritten rule obtained 
in every other corporation, regard- 
less of whether this firm did 
management consulting, real es- 
tate speculation, or constructing 
nuclear power plants— what dif- 
ference did it make if the purpose 
of it all was known? It came down 
to the same thing no matter where 
you worked. This attitude of pas- 
sive cynicism has always seemed 
to me to be the most pervasive 
feeling in offices. 

The uniformity of the work 


process has another consequence 
that hit home to me as I struggled 
to keep up with the unending flow 
of legal babble: no matter what job 
you do, you can learn everything 
there is to know about it in a matter 
of minutes. After that, there are 
only details— sometimes perverse, 
sometimes complicated, but al- 
ways insignificant in comparison to 
the basic structure of the tasks 
performed. About an hour after I 
had walked in, I felt that I had been 
working there for months, and I 
still didn't know what the company 

did in the first place! 

Eventually, I was given some 
"in-house" work that allowed me 
to find out all I needed to know 
about the company's operations, 
which wasn't much. Management 
took great pride in being an 

exponent of the "Office of the 
Future" concept, which was touted 
as effecting a radical transfor- 
mation of conventional office re- 
lations and design. Since it is said 
that change begins at home, I 
looked around the office. It con- 
sisted of a series of cubicles with 
tall dividers; in order to speak to 
anybody, I had to stand up and 
peer over the partition. Each 
cubicle was unbelievably cramped; 
there were no windows; the ceil- 
ings were claustrophobically low; 
and fans spread the stale air 


around equitably and democrat- 
ically. The supervisor's fan was at 
floor level, a detail I discovered 
after almost shredding my pants 
leg in the blades. Most workers 
didn't even have a phone at their 
desks — no doubt, such a "priv- 
elege" would have been "abused" 
to the detriment of the productivity 
level. To plug in office equipment, 
I had to crawl under the desk and 
be careful not to bang the small of 
my back on the edge of the desk as 
I got up. 

The message? Offices of the 
future = Now + More of the 



After a few minutes of dicta- 
phone transcription, I gazed at the 
crabbed, stilted words that seemed 
to be flowing from my fingers even 
though they had nothing to do with 
me, and was uncertain whether I 
felt contempt, amusement, or utter 
amazement at what I saw. Perhaps 
one of the most powerful indict- 
ments that can be levelled against 
the business world is its bureau- 
cratization of language. When we 
enter the office, we inherit a 
language that bears only a fleeting 
resemblance to the language we 
use in our lives. There is a certain 
irony in knowing that even as the 
written word is debased to an 
instrumental level, it is empha- 
sized more and more as a tool of 
(pseudo-) communication. Discus- 
sions between people in an office 
don't become "real" unless they 
are "in writing." Such reified 
forms of interchange are enforced 
by the nature of the work itself; to 
judge by the majority of memos, 
reports, etc. that are "generated" 
(a suitably mechanical phrase) in 
offices, one would swear that the 
only matters that motivated the 
authors to write anything were the 
firm's image, prospects, and pro- 

fits. The word becomes an acces- 
sory to concealment instead of 
expression. The extensive use of 
the passive voice in office-ese is an 
eloquent testimony to the dom- 
ination of an impersonal bureau- 
cratic code over ostensibly active 
human beings. Pascal's dictum 
"The self is hateful" could be 
emblazoned in stone tablets in 

every office. 


"There is one thing I insist on 
here, and that's to get here on 
time. I had to fire my last typist 
because he was always coming in 
late, sometimes 90 minutes to 2 
hours late. So keep that in mind." 
My supervisor was not an author- 
itarian person by nature; later on 
that day she spoke to me of her 
experiences in lesbian communes 
in a way that demonstrated her 
acute sensitivity to how people can 
dominate each other. She dressed 
in a most un-businesslike style. 
She was blessed with a crazy sense 
of humor and enough cynicism 
about her job to make it easy for 
me to be honest with her about 
how I felt. 

And yet this same woman, with 
whom I would ordinarily feel some 
affinity, was able to assert what 
small-time authority she had been 
granted and dismiss somebody 
from a position. Of course, she had 
her reasons for doing it, the most 
convincing being that she couldn't 
be expected to do his work and her 
work at the same time, and she 
feared repercussions from her 
bosses. She was duly remorseful 
about what she had done, but 
claimed she had no choice. The sad 
thing is that she probably didn't, at 

Hierarchy poisons every work 
situation in capitalist society; and 
in the office, which is founded on 
interlocking, mutually dependent 



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divisions, departments, etc. (each 
imprisoned by its own chains of 
command), everybody is caught up 
in several simultaneous variations 
on the loathsome power-subordin- 
ation theme. In a grotesque, 
democratized parody of the mas- 
ter/slave dialectic, there is always 
somebody taking orders from 
somebody else. Not surprisingly, 
people betray themselves in hun- 
dreds of different ways as they act 
out their prescribed roles. "Hu- 
man relations" degenerate into a 
series of pre-fabricated scenarios 
with predictable outcomes. Even 
the most fair-minded and generous 
individual is not spared the cor- 
rupting effect of power, be her 

share in it ever so petty. 

As the day wore on, I felt 
recurrent pains in my lower back; 
the typed material in front of me 
would become blurred from time to 
time as my eyes had to strain more 
and more under the harsh glare of 
the fluorescent lights. My head 

pounded. I craved a stiff drink, or 
perhaps two or three. I thought I 
would weep for sheer frustration 
and rage at having to sit down in a 
tiny cubbyhole and transcribe 
bullshit, useless, pointless bull- 
shit. The split between mind and 
body that even "easy" work 
demands— and which I was dil- 
igently reinforcing despite my 
better instincts (which in any case 
were all locked in a little compart- 
ment of my brain lest they inter- 
fere with the pace)— was breaking 
down. The inhumanity of wage- 
labor can only really be exper- 
ienced when its effects permeate 
your entire being. 


At last, it was time to go home. 
Stumbling out the door onto the 
dark streets, shivering in the chill 
of the approaching night, I looked 
up at the small patch of sky that 
the high-rises had not been able to 
block out. It had to be a quick 
glance lest I collide with a passer- 
by. Suddenly, as I saw the sky- 
scrapers with their hundreds of 


tiny windows behind which thou- 
sands of people spent a good 
portion of their waking hours, I 
was overwhelmed with a feeling 
that everything confronting me 
was permanent and unchangeable. 
Even assuming that office workers 
would one day challenge en masse 
the social rationale for this mess, 
how could freedom as I conceived 

more people had to fight them. I 
myself had to admit that over the 
next few weeks, I would do little 
more than cope and attempt to 
preserve a minimum of self- 
respect. In that sense, I was no 
different from many other working 
people who did what they could to 
get by, without in any way falling 
for the bill of goods that the system 



The 8 Hour Day 



It's a Question of Perspective 

it flourish in such an evidently 
hierarchical environment, where it 
was so difficult to make one's voice 
heard over the roar of the traffic 
and the clatter of the office 
equipment? Real life, as always, 
was elsewhere. 

On the other hand, the "else- 
where" remained to be created, 
and where better place to start 
than within the institutions that 
were designed to suppress even 
the merest talk of radical alter- 
natives? Granted, many battles 
remained to be fought, and many 


incessantly tried to sell them. 
From the many acts of resistance, 
however insignificant, that we 
would engage in to prevent our- 
selves from succumbing to resig- 
nation and boredom, a new spirit 
could very well emerge. And how 
funny it would be if that new spirit 
were eventually to break loose onto 
the world, to the consternation of 
all those who thought they had 
shut it up for good! 

Christopher Winks 


Since December 8, 1980, 1,100 
office workers at Blue Shield 
Insurance Company have been on 
strike. They are represented by the 
Office and Professional Employees 
International Union— Local #3 
(OPEIU), AFL-CIO. The union is 
pressing its demands to retain its 
Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment for- 
mula for determining pay in- 
creases (which has been in effect 
for six years and would allow for a 
14.7% wage increase this year); to 
reduce current heavy production 
quotas (initial claims processors 
are expected to handle 383 claims 
in each 7.5 hour shift!); to base the 
"average production measure- 
ment" on a four-day week to allow 
for a bad day; special rights for 
Video Display Terminal operators; 
and to improve pension plan 

Blue Shield is demanding that 
no mention be made in the contract 

of production quotas or standards, 
claiming that such a change would 
open these matters up to grie- 
vances and arbitration, thereby 
limiting Blue Shield's competi- 
tivity. Production standards, the 
company insists, should remain a 
management prerogative. Blue 

Shield was offering a 9.5% wage 
increase this year with a reopener 
clause for wage negotiations in the 
next two years. Since OPEIU Local 
#29 in the East Bay settled for 
9.5% this year, 8% next year, and 
7.5% in the last year with Blue 
Cross, Blue Shield has offered the 
same package. Also, some man- 
agement "takeaway" demands 
(e.g. a shorter lunchbreak) were 
reintroduced, after having been 
dropped to avert the strike. 


Blue Shield is facing an increas- 
ingly competitive market. Several 



years ago, B.S. lost its contract to 
process Medi-Cal claims when 
they were underbid by a non-union 
data processing firm. Blue Shield 
is the only unionized insurance 
carrier in S.F. though they do have 
four other non-union offices in 
California in L. A., S.D., Woodland 
Hills, and Sacramento. At the time 
of the strike, S.F. Blue Shield was 
processing 52,000 claims per day, 
37,000 of them under a federal 
contract for Medicare processing. 
Medicare constitutes a $12-million- 
a-year business for Blue Shield, 
about 1.3 million claims annually. 
Though they have been processing 
claims at below-average cost in the 
past four years, they are expecting 
stiff competition from the numer- 
ous non-union data processing 
companies entering the market to 
threaten their Medicare contract. 

As the only major unionized 
private corporate office in S.F., 
Blue Shield is on the front lines of 
the rising battle between manage- 
ment and the increasingly impor- 
tant clerical sector of workforce. 
This fact is not lost on Blue Shield, 
OPEIU, or the workers themselves. 
Blue Shield is clearly attempting to 
break the union outright or render 
it completely impotent. 


OPEIU Local #3 won the right to 
represent the workers at Blue 
Shield in 1972 without serious 
resistance from the company. The 
1,100 striking Blue Shield workers 
constitute l A of the membership of 
OPEIU Local #3. A small union 
with a tiny foothold in the enor- 
mous office labor market of San 
Francisco, OPEIU Local #3 is 
fighting for its life in this strike. 

OPEIU is affiliated with the 
AFL-CIO, and it pledges allegiance 
to the labor laws of the U.S. in its 
constitution. These laws impose 

severe limits on what workers and 
unions can do to achieve their 
demands (for instance, it is illegal 
to occupy a workplace). Their 
primary tactic in this confrontation 
with Blue Shield is the strike, a 
traditional walkout protected by 
National Labor Relations Act leg- 
islation. Out on the picket lines, 
however, workers no longer control 
the machines and data banks that 
are in their control daily when they 
are on the job. This divests them of 
the tremendous leverage they 
would have if they stayed in the 
offices and prevented their re- 
placement by scabs. 


The second major tactic of 
OPEIU, in an attempt to gain 
support for the strike, has been to 
appeal to other unions for a boycott 
of Blue Shield insurance contracts. 
In fact, John Henning, secretary- 
treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, 
has issued an appeal for all unions 
and union members to cancel their 
insurance contracts with Blue 
Shield if they don't give in to union 
demands. This threat is less than 
"toothless" since it is only pos- 
sible to break these contracts upon 
their expiration. In any case 
the medical insurance contracts of 
unions and their sympathizers 
represent a relatively small part of 
Blue Shield's total business, the 
bulk of which is processing federal 
Medicare claims. The vast majority 
of workers, who are not in unions, 
have no say over their companies' 
choice of insurance policies, and 
their bosses are hardly likely to 
support a boycott. With the boycott 
tactic, the union remains peaceful 
and within the law, but much of the 
strike's energy and resistance is 
diverted into hopeless boycott 


As usual the union has not 
attempted to mobilize the millions 
of AFL-CIO members to support 
the strikers at Blue Shield (or 
anywhere else for that matter). 
Local #29 (OPEIU) in the East Bay, 
a "sister" union, undercut the 
bargaining position of Local #3 
when they recently accepted from 


Manipulation Or 

The union accepts the "neces- 
sities" of the marketplace, i.e. that 
costs must be cut for Blue Shield to 
remain competitive. The union's 
strategy is to blame a "malfunc- 

4 'Jeez, my stomach feels terrible. Three cups 
of coffee already and I still feel like going back 
to sleep. Oh shit, here comes the supervisor 
with more work." 

Blue Cross a contract which says 
nothing about production quotas or 
work rules, and accepts paltry 
wage increases for the next three 

Meanwhile, office workers rep- 
resented by the same Local #29 
were on strike for six weeks 
against the Alameda County 
Council of Building Trades Unions 
demanding cost-of-living increases 
(which they finally got). The 
Council of Building Trades Unions 
used their power to prevent the 
Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) 
of Alameda County from sanc- 
tioning the strike. One picket line- 
crossing union bureaucrat even 
went so far as to admit that he and 
his fellow bureaucrats were just a 
bunch of "hot-air hypocrites who 
don't practice what we preach." 

The separation and isolation of 
workers from each other is clearly 
being furthered by the actions of 
these Bay Area locals... so much 
for the "labor solidarity" of trade 

tioning data processing system" 
installed in '78 by another company 
called Electronic Data Services for 
the too-high costs and production 
quotas, and they are appealing to 
Blue Shield to cut the 50-cents-per- 
claim fee that EDS gets instead of 
lowering wages, and to get an 
improved data processing system. 
It seems highly unlikely that Blue 
Shield would take such suggestions 
seriously. Demanding more ef- 
ficient management or proposing 
viable economic solutions for the 
company obscures the basic conflict 
between profit motives and work- 
ers' interests. The union bases its 
strategy on the erroneous idea that 
the workers and the company have 
basically the same interst in the 
company's success. In reality, the 
company's success is measured by 
increasing profit margins. The main 
way of doing this is to cut labor costs 
by replacing workers with mach- 
ines, lowering real wages, or trying 
to get more work out of each working 
hour on the job. These are the very 
measures that the workers are 



striking against. 

The union remains utterly naive 
in its political/economic perspec- 
tive. In the concluding statement on 
their appeal for solidarity the union 

"Since Blue Shield does have a 
federal Medicare contract, union 
labor should be upheld, not 

Can the government be relied 
upon to support workers against 
management? The answer lies in 
the history of the role of the U.S. 
government as strikebreakers (1934 
Longshoremen's strike in S.F., 1970 
National Postal wildcat strike, 
invocation of Taft-Hartley Act in 
1978 coal miner's strike to cite only 
three examples out of hundreds). 
The National Labor Relations Act 
has been hailed as a progressive 
landmark of workers' rights. But a 
closer look at the action of workers in 

the industrial mid-East of the 1930 ' s 
suggests that the National Labor 
Relations Board was created pri- 
marily to contain widespread mili- 
tancy (factory occupations and 
sitdown strikes). At the same time 
as they gained the "right" to 
bargain collectively, workers were 
deprived by the courts of their most 
effective means of fighting when 
workplace occupations were made 

Since its beginning in 1935, the 
NLRA has been amended by the 
Taft-Hartley Act of 1948 which 
further limited workers' rights to 
take effective action against their 
employers. The courts have repeat- 
edly defined workers' rights to take 
action for themselves in the nar- 
rowest possible context. Now, in 
1981 , Blue Shield justifies its measly 
wage offer by referring to the 
President's wage guidelines as well 
as the pressure to remain competi- 




tive for the federal Medicare 

No one should hold any illusions 
that the federal government (or the 
state or the city) is in any way on our 
side (though there may be some 
effort to bolster the sagging AFL- 
CIO in order to control the upsurge 
of angry strikes which is bound to 
occur in the next few years). With 
Reagan's inauguration, the federal 
government will move to front and 
center in the attempt to impose 
austerity and sacrifice onus" for the 
good of the country." 


Blue Shield workers have tried to 
break out of the confines of the 
union's tactics. During the two 
weeks preceding the strike the 
workers engaged in a widespread 
slowdown on the job. Since the 
strike began, workers have spray- 
painted all over the Blue Shield 
buildings "On Strike". Superglue 
in the locks of automobiles of scab 
temporary workers and Blue Shield 
doors have also caused some 
difficulty for the company. On the 
17th of December, a bicycle mes- 
senger who crossed the picket line to 

Some ideas that came up during a 
discussion of the situation on the 
picket line included: cutting off the 
water necessary to cool the com- 
puter, thereby causing the com- 
puters to overheat and malfunction ; 
also, the idea to cut off the phone 
connections with the building was 
raised. Some reluctance was ex- 
pressed about taking such illegal 
actions, since the union would be 
blamed and would end up being tied 
up with legal and financial hassles 
( another example of how unions and 
labor laws constrain workers). Some 
strikers also wanted the union to 
bring in "some goons" to defend 
the picket line and prevent scabs 
from crossing them so nonchalantly. 

While force by striking workers 
(not hired goons) is invariably 
necessary to make some headway, 
even a military force of strikers 
would be inadequate if the struggle 
remains isolated in one office, 
company, or factory. Significant, 
permanent gains can only be the 
result of networks of supporting 
actions throughout the workforce. 

Insofar as they purport to repre- 
sent specific groups of workers, 
trade unions are based on the 
separation of different types of 

Trade unions are based on the 
separation of different types of 
workers and industries 

deliver a message returned to find 
his bicycle dumped in the street. He 
attacked one of the strikers and was 
beaten up, suffering lacerations and 
bruises. In mid- January a pile of 
claims waiting for processing was 
hurled out of the windows at the 
Grant St. office of Blue Shield. 

workers and industries. It is be- 
coming clearer that this is precisely 
what needs to be overcome. The 
isolation and separation of working 
people by sex, race, skill, job 
category, etc. is the single most 
useful tool that our "leaders" have 
in keeping us down. Trade unions, 



Behind this mural bureaucrats of the 
Alameda County Building Trades 
Unions stood firm for almost six 
weeks denying their office workers a 
cost-of-living wage increase. 



while occasionally paying lip- 
service to this idea, actually play an 
important role in maintaining and 
prolonging this isolation. Until 
office workers begin to make 
common cause with each other and 
all production workers, strikes will 
remain defensive and weak, with 
little chance of success, regardless 
of the militance of the particular 
workers involved. Still, the more 
direct control workers in any 
particular enterprise take over their 
workplace, the more likely they are 
to win their demands. 

standards to keep us working for 
them on their terms. 

Waiting for government or man- 
agement solutions to our worries 
will get us nothing but less of 
everything (except maybe war). On 
the verge of a very serious reces- 
sion/depression, we will have to 
begin asserting our abilities to 
decide what we want and how we are 
going to get it. For those of us who 
work in offices the first step toward a 
better life is communication with 
each other. 

4 'How am I going to make it through the whole 
afternoon? Hey Gladys, let's go smoke that 
joint, eh?" 


According to Business Week 

(Jan. 19, 1981) workers' real income 
has been falling since 1978— the 
longest continuous decline since 
WWII— and is likely to continue 
dropping in the next few years. But 
fewer workers went on strike in 1980 
than in any year since 1965, despite 
the worsening living standards. For 
years unions have been bargaining 
away control over the work process 
(i.e. agreeing to speed-ups and "job 
redesigning" layoffs) for increased 
wages and benefits. Now that the 
system is in crisis, owners and 
managers are no longer offering the 
carrot of wage increases in ex- 
change for increased control. To- 
day, they are turning to the stick of 
unemployment and falling living 

At the workplace our strength lies 
in our control over the massive 
quantities of machinery and data 
which are necessary to the contin- 
uation of existing institutions of 
political and economic power. We 
must not be fooled by anyone— pol- 
iticians, union bureaucrats, or 
anyone else— who say we can get 
what we want through petitions, 
negotiations, or bargains with the 
existing order. For a world free from 
9 to 5 drudgery and free from 
material scarcity and austerity, we 
will have to take over and transform 
the existing production/distribu- 
tion/communication system. Polish 
workers have demonstrated this 
collective power— we must make 
preparations to use ours. 

Lucio Cabanas 



new Information 
Technology: For What? 

"The computerized control of work 
has become so pervasive in Bell 
Telephone's clerical sector that 
management now has the capacity 
to measure how many times a 
phone rings before it is answered, 
how long a customer is put on hold, 
how long it takes a clerk to 
complete a call... Each morning, 
workers receive computer print- 
outs listing their break and lunch 
times based on the anticipated 
traffic patterns of the day... Before 
computerization, a worker's mor- 
ning break normally came about 
two hours after the beginning of 
the shift; now, it can come as early 

as fifteen minutes into the working 
day. Workers cannot go to the 
bathroom unless they find some- 
one to take their place. "If you 
close your terminal, right away the 
computer starts clacking away and 
starts ringing a bell." 
— from "Brave New Workplace," 
by Robert Howard 
Working Papers For A New Society 
November/December 1980 

Between the lines of the publi- 
city for the "office of the future" 
we can catch glimpses of the 
treatment in store for office work- 
ers. Bell Telephone may be the 



furthest along in automating office 
work, but this "future" is in store 
for hundreds of thousands of 
clerical workers as new technology 
gets installed. 

In manufacturing, automation is 
already well advanced, though 
nothing like what's coming when 
the new robot technology gets 
installed. This makes blue collar 
workers a lot more "productive" 
than office workers. As the sales- 
men from Xerox and IBM never 
tire of telling corporate managers, 
the average industrial worker is 
backed by $25,000 worth of equip- 
ment, compared to only $3,000 for 
the average secretary and next to 
nothing for low-to-middle level 

With modern word processing 
equipment, one typist can do the 
work that previously took three. 
And in today's increasingly inter- 
nationalized and conglomerated 
world, there is a lot of information 
to be handled. Everyday, millions 
of economic transactions are 
tracked by the corporations and the 
banks, and with each one comes 
the interminable complexities of a 
world choked by MONEY and its 
logic: billing, accounting, insuring, 
financing, advertising, researching 
what people can be made to buy. 
No wonder there has been a tre- 
mendous increase in the number of 
office workers. It is they who file, 
sort, type, track, process, dupli- 
cate and triplicate the ever ex- 
panding mass of "information" 
necessary to operate the global 
corporate economy. 

As office employment has in- 
creased so has the cost of pushing 
around the continually growing 
body of bureaucratic detail. It has 
become high priority for manage- 
ment to reduce costs at the office 
by eliminating as many clerical 

jobs as possible, and to gain as 
much control as possible over the 
ones that remain. 

In the office of the future, even 
middle managers and computer 
programmers will become un- 
thinking drones. Since they make 
their living by pushing informa- 
tion, they are prime candidates for 
"job redesign"— in other words, 
job elimination for many, tighter 
control and more boredom and 
repetitiveness for those that re- 


As markets stagnate around the 
world, international competition 
sharpens. Faced with soaring 
prices for energy and raw mater- 
ials, businesses of every variety 
are struggling to cut costs in order 
to maintain or expand their slice of 
a shrinking pie. 

Between 1976 and 1980 com- 
panies that wanted to step up 
production were likely to hire more 
workers rather than buy more 
equipment. They were afraid to 
invest in new machines because 
they didn't want to be caught with 
excess production capacity in a 
time of economic slowdown. Unlike 
new plants and equipment, work- 
ers can always be fired, or, better 
still, they can be hired as temps. 

Meanwhile, the cost of elec- 
tronic control and data processing 
technology has been steadily drop- 
ping. Today they are "econom- 
ical" on a larger scale than ever 
before and intensified competition 
gives wavering firms the necessary 
push toward automation. If your 
company doesn't use the new 
technologies it will be driven under 
by one that does, and if your 
country doesn't use them, perhaps 
because of union pressure to 
preserve jobs, it will be blown out 



The Demon which is destroying the 
People: cartoon of 1882 propounds 
Frankenstein theory of mechanization 
. . .workers are doomed to be replaced 
by robots. 



of the market by Japan 
ever else does. 

or who- 


Some computer industry mouth- 
pieces still persist in proclaiming 
that the new systems will "create" 
as many jobs as they destroy. But 
this is a self-serving lie. The "bus- 
iness machine" and automation 
industries are rare islands of pros- 
perity in an otherwise crisis-ridden 
economic picture, and they are, if 
anything, more automated than 
other sectors. In reality, large- 
scale unemployment unlike any- 
thing we've known since the last 
depression is just around the 

Automation isn't new, and nei- 

ther is the unemployment it cre- 
ates. During the fifties, workers in 
auto, steel and mining waged 
bitter fights against the mech- 
anical ' 'job killers. ' ' But the unions 
bargained away jobs and skills for 
improved wages and benefits. The 
result was a permanent pool of 
between twelve and fourteen mil- 
lion skill-less, jobless people, cul- 
turally, geographically and often 
racially segregated from the em- 
ployed population. 

Through the last two decades, 
this segregated "underclass" has 
provided management with a 
ready answer to unskilled and 
semi-skilled workers who resist 
speedups and takeaways. If you 
won't do twice as much work for 






















increasing Market Pressures To Increase Productivity /Profits 



half the real wage there's always 
someone out there hungry enough 
to do it instead of you. Added to 
this threat and the other well- 
known classic, the runaway shop, 
the new automation gives man- 
agement a blackmail "triple 
whammy." Once powerful and 
militant groups of employees are 


There are various ways to try to 
counteract the impact of the new 
technology and the economic 
forces behind it. Unions and 
workers' support organizations 
have proposed reduction of the 
work week with no cut in pay, 
demanded better working condi- 

44 It's only 3:35! Feels like its been at least two 
days since lunch." 

bullied into accepting brutal cuts in 
wages, benefits and conditions, 
with their unions lending a hand. 
The current plight of auto and steel 
workers is example enough. 

As unemployment grows and 
real wages fall distrust and com- 
petitiveness between employed 
and unemployed may prevail. But 
there are other possibilities. 
People who thought of themselves 
as "middle class" may realize that 
they can be dispensed with just as 
easily as the janitor, the busboy or 
the nurse's aide who live "on the 
other side of the tracks." The 
newly unemployed, who have been 
taught to expect opportunities for 
career and salary advancement 
that the system can no longer 
provide, may not passively accept 
being thrown aside like garbage. 

During the last depression, un- 
employed people joined employed 
ones on the picket lines, while the 
employed helped the unemployed 
fight for better relief or against 
evictions. The new wave of unem- 
ployment may help to recreate 
such unity by minimizing dif- 
ferences of sex, race, skill and 

tions and more control over the 
work process, and resisted man- 
agement-imposed job redesign. 
The methods of unions, however, 
are limited to the traditional end- 
of-contract strikes, interminable 
grievance procedures, or lobbying 
government for better labor legis- 
lation. (In the article on the Blue 
Shield strike, we discuss the need 
to transcend these methods with 
more aggressive, on-the-job action 
coordinated between workplaces.) 
Successful actions on any of 
these issues are always subject to 
renewed attacks by management. 
While workers in a given office or 
factory may prevent implemen- 
tation of a particularly loathsome 
technology, the pressures of sur- 
vival will eventually force the 
company to take a harder stand. 
Even if massive social unrest suc- 
ceeded in winning a four-day work 
week the wage gains would rapidly 
be taken back by inflation. Though 
it is certainly desirable to reduce 
time on the job and improve 
working conditions, no amount of 
"job humanization" will change 
the basically wasteful and useless 
nature of most work. 



As long as the existing set-up 
endures there will be no end to the 
problems created by automation. 
In the short run, successful actions 
on particular issues will gain some 
breathing space and provide 
people with concrete experience in 
overcoming their separation and 
passivity. But in the long run the 
system itself will have to be 
challenged. A world where tech- 
nological progress doesn't mean 
ever more suffering and loss of 
freedom will never be created by a 
system so paralyzed by its need for 
fast profit and centralized control. 


Though automation threatens 
livelihoods by eliminating and 
degrading jobs, there is nothing 
inherently bad about computer 
technology. In a different society, 
it could be used to improve our 
lives in all kinds of ways. 

Consider how hard it is for blind 
people to live indepently. Micro- 
processor-based technology can 
ease their isolation considerably by 
simulating the lost sense of sight. 
Already there is a reading machine 
built on a voice synthesizer and a 
powerful microcomputer which can 
read any clearly printed text at a 
rapid clip. The problem is that it 
costs $30,000— the only individual 
who owns one is singer Stevie 

"Vision" systems are also in 
development. They work by con- 
verting a TV image produced by a 
small camera worn on the side of 
the head into a pattern of tiny 
painless needle pricks on the back. 
With a little practice, a blind 
person can learn to "see" that 
pattern well enough to walk around 
in crowds and manipulate small 
objects. These devices could be 
made available to millions for only 

part of the cost of the MX missile 
system, or for the equivalent of 
Exxon's annual advertising bud- 


It is easy to question the warped 
priorities of modern society, but 
harder to see the deeper reasons 
for them. At root is what is most 
taken for granted— that in order to 
have things we must buy them; 
that in fact they are made only to 
be sold; that we can get things we 
need and enjoy only if we have 
money; that "advances" in tech- 
nology are governed by compe- 
tition for profit, markets, and 
credits; that decisions about how 
we spend our time and use our 
talents are dominated by concerns 
for "making a living"; that only 
officially sanctioned authorities 
have the power and capacity to 
make important decisions that 
affect our lives. In this system— 
which rules in the "socialist" 
countries just as it does here, 
though in a mutant, state-run 
form— everything counts first and 
foremost as a quantity of money, 
including our skills and time. 

The result is that resources are 
allocated and products distributed 
according to power and wealth, 
rather than according to human 
need or desire. The fragmentation 
of the world into rival businesses, 
nations, social groups and indiv- 
iduals creates permanent irration- 
ality—war, starvation, catastro- 
phic wastes of time, energy and 
materials, misery of every descrip- 

Suppose, though, that all sorts 
of people throughout the world 
decided to stop following the rules 
and priorities that govern society 
today. Their first actions would 
probably take the form of massive 
strikes and occupations something 



like what has been going on in 
Poland, or among squatters in 

But suppose people went beyond 
this and organized themselves into 
groups according to what they 
thought needed changing, and 
according to their skills and wil- 
lingness to make those changes. 
These groups could begin to 
supply themselves and each other 
by direct communication about 
their needs for goods and re- 
sources. When they needed some- 
thing they could contact the people 
who had information about it, or 
who worked in factories that 
produced it. Suppose, too, that the 
workers at these factories had 

enough information to make in- 
formed decisions about where to 
send their products. Life would 
turn more and more on the 
conscious decisions of groups of 
people; the market would be 
circumvented, and money would 
become superfluous as a means of 

Suppose this activity spread 
throughout society. Suppose the 
vicious forces deployed against it 
by those in power were success- 
fully defeated, and the military, 
governmental, and corporate 
structures that control our lives 
were thoroughly dismantled. From 
now on, people would work, study, 
create, travel and share their lives 

The way we figure it, the mor< 
time you spend in front of TV 
screens, the less time you'll 
have to think. And when you're 
busy not thinking your crea- 
tivity disappears, your desires 
shrivel up, and you are the 
perfect, passive citizen of the 
^modern world. 



because they wanted to, for them- 
selves and for others. 

A movement capable of trans- 
forming society in this way would 
have immense problems to tackle. 
Two thirds of the world population 
is seriously malnourished or star- 
ving. Hundreds of millions are 
without decent housing, clothing, 
sanitation, medical care. Most are 
illiterate. Cities are desperately 
overcrowded, while huge tracts of 
land are rapidly becoming deserts. 
Water, air and soil are badly pol- 

^n, you won't have time fo> 
your incessant phone calls, your 
Irips to the restroom, water 
cooler, and coffee shop. Soon 
we'll have you doing the work of 

five secretaries, all for a mere 
$125,000 investment. 

Some of the work necessary to 
set things right will be dangerous, 
and some tedious. When the 
glaring problems are solved, new 
ones will arise. If people were free 
to do what they wanted and not 
forced to work, how would every- 
thing get done? 

Part of the answer is that a great 
deal of work that is today required 
to keep the system going could be 
immediately done away with. 
Whole sectors like banking, in- 
surance, and marketing— the three 
largest clerical employers— would 

Wrt? y '/ OVeyOUrCOffe ^A^ 
you re ,ust gonna iove th 

™«»™ you're getting bom Z 
company. Y ou . u be ab] ' 

m?.u y . en » et a SlOO-a- 

you s ,x more years at 40 hours a 
^to pay off y OU r debts ° U 


be unnecessary. Jobs designed 
merely to supervise and control the 
population would be eliminated. 
Millions would be freed to learn 
and share other tasks, along with 
the formerly unemployed. 

Products would be made to last 
instead of to fall apart in a few 
years so that the owner has to buy 
a new one. Very quickly, this 
would reduce the amount of work 
that has to be done. Meanwhile, as 
many jobs as possible would be 
transformed to make them inter- 
esting, pleasant and safe. The un- 
pleasant work that remained would 
be shared around, so that before 
long no one would have to do them 
more than a few hours a month. 

But how would all this be organ- 
ized? Who would decide how much 
time and resources should be spent 
on a particular project, and how 
scarce resources should be allo- 
cated? How can the rise of a new 
structure of power and hierarchy 
be prevented? 

Obviously we can't foresee all 
the problems that might arise, nor 
propose definite solutions. How- 
ever, it's reasonable to assume 
that the more people participate in 
decision making, the less chance 
there is of power concentrating in 
the hands of any particular group 
or groups. 

This is where the new infor- 
mation technologies come in. At 
present, at least a third of all 
computer time in the U.S. is used 
for military and "national secur- 
ity" purposes— monitoring tele- 
phone, radio and TV signals, 
tracking U.S. and foreign military 
forces, industries and raw mater- 
ials, planning for present and 
future wars. Much of the rest is 
used in the electronic transfer of 
funds from one corporate account 
to another. And ail this information 

is tightly guarded, placed under 
coded "locks," and made acces- 
sible only through an elaborate 
hierarchy of classifications and 

However, in the context of a 
growing movement such as the one 
described above, operators and 
programmers could begin sorting 
through the immense computer- 
ized files. A lot of information, like 
cash flow accounts and secret 
dossiers, could be simply wiped. 
The computers used for spying can 
be put to other uses or dismantled. 
Inventories of actual goods, equip- 
ment and raw materials, along 
with any other useful or interesting 
data, could be kept, made public, 
and reorganized. With the design 
of the proper systems and the 
installation of easy-to-use term- 
inals in accessible places, work 
groups, communities and indiv- 
iduals could continually update, 
index and tap into the growing pool 
of information. 

Most production would be 
planned at the local level. Work 
groups could organize their tasks 
as they see fit. The amount of milk 
or bread needed in a region could 
be produced locally right there, 
eliminating fancy packaging and 
long transportation efforts. 

But for other purposes elaborate 
plans would be required. Many 
projects would have to be coor- 
dinated at an inter-regional level. 
Computers can help here because 
they can digest enormous amounts 
of data into summaries that enable 
participating communities to set 
up the broad outlines of a plan: 
what products they need and how 
much, and what resources and 
skills they have available. Com- 
puters could match needs to re- 
sources and pinpoint potential 
surpluses and shortfalls. 

Once plans were agreed upon, 



communications systems could 
facilitate their smooth follow 
through. When conflicts and shor- 
tages arise many of those affected 
could be brought together "on 
line" to discuss strategies for their 
resolution. Potential suppliers 
could respond to shortages with 
information about available stocks 
and perhaps negotiate to expand 
production. Final discussions could 
be handled by phone or in person. 

Of course, it's not the computers 
that are actually doing the plan- 
ning, it's people. And no one really 
wants to spend a lot of time in front 
of a Video Display Unit or sitting 
through dreary meetings. So 
"planning committees" would 
probably be designated by com- 
munities to make analyses and 
suggestions that they would bring 
back for approval. The "planners" 
could be delegated on a rotating 
and recallable basis to ensure both 
that they do a good job and that 
their temporary responsibilities 
don't "go to their heads." 

Decision making would be de- 
centralized to the maximum ex- 
tent, and everyone would have a 
chance to participate. Gradually, 
every area and community in the 
world that wants to join in could be 
linked together. The right mix of 
autonomy and interdependence 
could be approached in the context 
of a massive public discussion 
about the best ways of doing 

In such a world automation, like 
computers in general, would mean 
something entirely different than 
they do today. Instead of being 
used to throw millions out of their 
jobs and squeeze more and more- 
work out of the rest, it would be 
applied to eliminating necessary 
but repetitive and boring tasks, 
and to reduce the amount of 
less-than-enjoyable activity re- 

quired of everyone. The time freed 
could be spent learning, playing, 
socializing, travelling. . . 




These may seem like totally 
unrealizable fantasies but they are 
as much part of the potential of the 
new information technology as the 
unemployment and degradation it 
engenders today. There have al- 
ready been several attempts to 
demonstrate the hidden social 
potential of information technology 
by creating systems that take some 
first halting steps towards public 
access and community control. 

One such system, named Cyber- 
syn, was being developed in Chile 
until the 1973 (U.S.-backed) coup 
put the present military dictator- 
ship into power. The idea of 
Cybersyn was simple: to install a 
computerized information gather- 
ing system that could be used to 
observe the Chilean economy in 
process, and to help predict the 
effects of various decisions upon it. 
Cybersyn was to be capable of 
producing detailed output, or of 
boiling down large masses of data 
into easily comprehended graphs 
and tables. In experiments done 
just before the 1973 coup, it was 
found that workers were able to 
use the system as easily as profes- 
sional managers. 

Cybersyn is not presented here 
as a model to be adopted. On the 
contrary, this system was built on 
request by a central government 
and was implemented in the 
context of a national economy 
intricately bound up in the world 
market, which functions on the 
basis of profit, wage-labor and 
military force. In its very concep- 
tion, therefore, it was meant to 
accomodate centralized power and 




J.F. Batellier 

the money economy. These insti- 
tutions (which eventually put a 
bloody end to the Chilean experi- 
ment) are precisely what must be 
abolished for any attempts to 
change society to succeed. Cyber- 
syn does, however, demonstrate 
the simple logistical feasibility of 
the widespread installation of 
easy-to-use computer communica- 
tions facilities. 

Today in the Bay Area, a related 
kind of system is being developed. 
"Community Memory" is being 
designed to facilitate the decen- 
tralized, non-hierarchical sharing 
of information, needs, skills and 
resources, or anything else that 
can be typed into a keyboard: 
philosophical or political opinions, 
recipes, personal advertisements. 
According to a Community Mem- 
ory publication, 

Community Memory is ... an 
open channel for community 
communications and information 
exchange, and a way for people 
with common interests to find 
each other. It is a tool for collec- 
tive thinking, planning, organ- 
izing, fantasizing and decision- 

"By being open and interactive, 
Community Memory seeks to 
present an alternative to broad- 


cast media such as TV. It makes 
room for the exchange of people- 
to-people information, recogniz- 
ing and legitimating the ability 
of people to decide for them- 
selves what information they 

"The projected incarnation of 
Community Memory is a broad 
dispersion of computer ter- 
minals in public places, such as 
community centers, libraries, 
stores and bus stations... 
"The designers of Community 
Memory would like to see a 
world not broken up into nation- 
states, but one built upon many 
overlapping regions of concern: 
from household to neighborhood 
to interest group to work group, 
from geographical region to 
globe, where decisions are made 
by all those affected. This would 
be a world where power is 
distributed and governance is 
the process of collectively trying 
to determine the best action to 
be taken, via general discussion 
and complete dissemination of 
information. With this vision, 
the Community Memory system 
has been designed to be a com- 
munications tool for a working 


Processed World has^ 
hired me for $75,000/ 
month to fly around the 
country in my Leer jet 
here, to assure corporate 
managers, government of- 
ficials, and the police and 
military that this maga- 
zine does NOT advocate 
any illegal activities. 

The new information machines are 
bringing changes that call for more 
than simple opposition. 


In a world where everything and 
everyone is treated as an object to 
be bought and sold, the new 
technologies— and most of the old 
ones for that matter— will inevi- 
tably create hardship and human 
misery. Whether it's the office 
workers at Bell Telephone or the 
women in Malaysia going blind 
assembling the integrated circuits 
for our new, self-tuning, giant 


screen, stereo color TV's, someone 
always pays. 

The new information machines 
are bringing changes that call for 
more than simple opposition. We 
must have some idea of what we 
want to do, and not sink completely 
into the politics of unemployment 
and workplace drudgery. The ease 
with which computers are used as 
instruments of social control can- 
not be allowed to obscure their 
liberatory potential. 

Tom Athanasiou 

San Francisco— 1987 
Would You Believe It? 


She glared down at the fancily- 
dressed woman sitting next to 
where she was standing on the 
morning streetcar. 

"What right do you have to 
complain about being crowded? 
You only paid 14 cents" sneered 
back the seated woman, who had 
overheard the younger woman's 
explanation to her friend about 
how most drivers didn't count 

1 'Look lady, I don't care if you're 
proud of paying, it's none of your 
goddam business how I got on this 
streetcar, so just keep your fuckin' 
spiked heels away from my feet! ! ' ' 

Willie Moreland felt the tension 
building in the streetcar as it 
whisked along underground. The 
two antagonists were separated as 
the crowd surged out and back into 



the car at each stop, rearranging 
the mass of sweating, work-bound 
bodies. Willie could see people 
choosing sides by the expressions 
of interest or fear that flickered 
across their faces. Those who were 
interested eagerly craned their 
necks to see the latest outburst of a 
conflict that had been simmering 
for some time. 

A couple of young Latino women 

Everything seemed so different 
since the Bank of America office 
workers had taken over their 
buildings two days ago. 

"I hope Fred, Jenny, and the 
others are OK in there" he thought 
to himself. Since he was unem- 
ployed he had time to carry a sack 
of canned foods down to the 
occupiers, as well as the outside 
press and 25 copies of the latest 

Everything seemed so different since 
the B of A workers had taken over 
their buildings two days ago. 

stood in the back, their voices 
suddenly rising above the buzz of 
conversation: "You! You never 
even gave us a minute! It was just 
non-stop data entry all day, every- 
day! You wouldn't even let us go 
the bathroom except on our 

The businessman, his eyes dart- 
ing about for a sympathetic face, 
turned ghost-white as he backed 
into the surrounding crowd trying 
to escape the wrath of his ex- 

"Look, I'm sorry you had a bad 
time at our company, but we have 
a business to run and we must get 
the most from our employees." 

"The MOST!! Shit, by the time 
you were finished with us every- 
day, we were too tired to do 
anything but go home and watch 
TV or fall asleep!" 

The others on the streetcar, 
largely young office workers or 
unemployed, were enjoying the 

"Kick his ass!" someone 

"Yeah, let him have it!" 

Willie felt his mind racing. 


issue of their own paper. 

SPLAT! One of the women spit 
in her ex-boss' face. As he swung 
to strike her he was pummeled to 
the floor by the blows of five 
surrounding passengers. They 
shoved the humiliated executive 
into the corner. Where a few weeks 
ago people had ridden to work 
sullenly, oblivious to the shared 
misery around them, today the 
tension reverberated amongst the 
tightly-packed bodies. 

For a brief moment Willie 
remembered the past years' or- 
ganizing efforts, the apathy and 
hopeless cynicism that seemed to 
pervade most white-collar workers' 
attitudes. The lack of enthusiasm 
during the unionization drives in 
'84-85 had really depressed him for 

After the unions had gotten in it 
was a short time before Willie 
realized there was good reason to 
be unenthusiastic about them. 
Except during the couple of 
months before a contract expired, 
all the union officials ever did was 
enforce the work rules agreed to in 
the contract and exhort workers to 


increase their productivitiy. Even 
when there was a strike, the union 
would just pull their members out 
on to a picket line where they had 
very little leverage. Taking control 
over the data banks, machinery, 
and offices was outside of the legal 
limits set on union activity by the 
Federal government, and no "sen- 
sible" union leadership would risk 
the fines and jail terms that would 
follow any real militant activity by 
their membership. 

Now, for the first time in 
memory, there was a direct chal- 
lenge to the status quo by hun- 
dreds of white-collar workers, 
acting on their own. Bank of 
America workers were holding 
most of the executive staff hostage 
in the World Headquarters down- 
town, and controlled the admini- 
strative/data processing center at 
11th and Market. 

Jenny was exultant on the phone 
yesterday when she told Willie 
about the spontaneous walkout in 
one of the data processing centers, 
and how they had been joined by 
others throughout the building as 
they paraded through with the 
captured executives. 

"Fred blew up at the supervisor 
when she kept hanging around 
behind him. He and two others 

grabbed her and threatened to 
beat her up if she didn't back off. 
Terrified, she agreed to everything 
and soon everything was being 
demanded—things she had no 
power to agree to. That's when 
everyone walked out! It was fan- 
tastic!" she excitedly recounted. 

In the past two days they had 
already erased or transmitted a 
substantial percentage of the re- 
cords held in the building's mas- 
sive computer memory banks 
(covering B of A's operations 
world-wide). Transcripts of the 
broadcasts were being made as 
quickly as possible, printed, and 
distributed around the area by the 
network. The broadcasts were 
coming over a short-wave radio 
transmitter put up on the 22nd 
floor, made by a couple of pro- 
grammers and a maintenance 

Willie found the details of the 
Bank of America's international 
counterinsurgency funding efforts 
interesting, but he was really 
excited by what his friends were 
doing. For almost 45 hours they 
had been destroying or erasing all 
records pertaining to personal 
and/or corporate wealth. 

He remembered a certain cun- 
ning gleam in Jenny's eyes at the 



last meeting when she said "One 
of the best things we could do is 
destroy a big chunk of the records 
held in the Bank. If we eliminate 
all those 'vital' numbers that 
provide the illusion of a 'real' basis 
for the status quo it's going to be a 
lot harder for anyone to re-take 
power based on this system. We 
have to figure out a way to directly 
challenge the money/wage-labor 
society, beyond our rather limited 
efforts to acquire free goods, 
housing, and transportation." 

The train came to a halt at 
Powell Street and people poured 
out, boisterous and full of frenzied 
relief. From Hallidie Plaza where 
they came out, up to the Civic 
Center in one direction and to the 
Embarcadero in the other, Market 
Street throbbed with people. Hun- 
dreds of groups of ten to several 
hundred milled around, with 
people moving freely from one 
group to the next, discussing, 
arguing, screaming at each other. 

Willie and the other fresh ar- 

rivals from the subterranean artery 
were met by people from all walks 
of life: financial district clerks and 
secretaries, retail sales clerks, 
construction workers, truck and 
bus drivers, cabbies, Tenderloin 
winos, teachers, students, hippie 
street people, etc. 

Willie entered a nearby circle of 

"...2500 National Guard troops 
are on the way from Edwards Air 
force base near Los Angeles!" 

"Aren't they the same ones who 
were in East Los Angeles and 
Watts last summer? Why are they 
coming here?!? There aren't any 

"They'll use 'em on the Bank of 
America buildings and anyone who 
tries to defend them. And they'll 
go through the neighborhoods just 
to show people who's in charge!" 

Faces tilted abruptly toward the 
distinct wap-wap-wap of an olive 
green military helicoptor over- 
head. Leaflets fluttered down: 



June 9, 1987 









Mayor Carol Rude Sliver, S.F. 
Governor Thomas Broadley, Ca. 

The police who had been all over 
downtown the past day and half 
were nowhere to be seen. The 
SWAT teams had gone back to the 
Hall of Justice. 

futile. No one inside seems to be 
able to speak for everyone and 
no specific demands have been 

There has been, however, a 
great deal of communication 
between the terrorists and the 
outside world via telephones and 
a short-wave radio station which 
they have commandeered... 

...these communists are cal- 
ling for something completely 
unrealistic and impossible to 
achieve— (from their broad- 
casts) "a world without the 
state-administered, capitalist 
austerity of the 'Free World' or 
the bureaucratic tyranny of the 
4 Communist countries ' . . . a 
world where people co-operate 
freely in providing for each 
others' needs and desires with- 
out the constraints of wage- 
labor, money, or any kind of 
institutional authority . " — 

Imagine the foolishness! 

...We hope this hostage sei- 
zure can be settled peacefully, 
though the agitated, rash be- 
havior exhibited thus far leads 
us to fear the worst... 

...Utopian visions have been 
around for as long as human 
society has existed. They are no 

Hundreds of groups of ten to several 
hundred milled around, with people 
discussing, arguing, screaming at 
each other. 

Willie knew now that people had 
not bought yesterday's interpre- 
tation of events by the big dailies 
and TV stations in town. 

San Francisco Examiner: 
June 8, 1987 (Editorial) 

Attempts to negotiate with the 
terrorists in the Bank of America 
buildings have thus far been 

more realistic today than they 
were at the time of Jesus Christ. 
Terrorism is unjustified what- 
ever the cause, it cannot coexist 
with a free society, and must be 
thoroughly suppressed. 

Some people began leaving 
down the side streets after the 
leaflet came down, but thousands 
remained, buzzing with antici- 



pation. Some groups attacked the 
stone garbage receptacles. Frag- 
mented pieces of stone, empty 
bottles, and various other objects 
were visible in the people's hands. 
Here and there handguns glinted 
in the morning sun. 

Arriving at her job at 8:57 a.m., 
as usual, Frieda Johnson didn't 
realize what was going on just a 
few blocks away. She parked her 
car and went into the Pacific 
Telephone building at 3rd and 
Harrison. She knew about the 

They are requesting our help in 
dealing with the terrorist seige at the 
Bank of America, 

Barricades sprang up at nearly 
every intersection along Market 
and in many surrounding streets. 
Telephone booths toppled over, 
cars and buses were overturned, 
office furniture was brought out of 
various buildings. 

"...and the Bechtel building, 
too!" exclaimed an elderly sec- 
retary, her eyes gleaming with 
excitement. "Y'know I've been 
dreaming of this for 32 years!" 

"What didja say?" asked a 
young fellow from the Sunset who 
had just entered the circle. 

"The Standard Oil building, the 
P.G.& E. building, and the Bechtel 
building at 1st and Market have all 
been occupied!!" she repeated 

A big smile came across his face. 

"My father called home from 
work and told us that they've 
occupied Hunter's Point and Beth- 
lehem shipyards. The radio re- 
ported that P.G.& E. workers are 
sitting in at substations and the 
generating station on the Bay. I got 
a free ride here on the K-Ingleside. 
McAteer, Galileo, and Mission 
high schools have been taken over 
by the students, and so have USF 
and San Francisco State!!" 

Feverishly excited, Willie yelled 

Bank of America building occu- 
pations but she hadn't heard any of 
the short-wave broadcasts or seen 
any transcripts, so she believed the 
TV and radio news reports about 
terrorists who had infiltrated the B 
of A staff. She had been a bit 
frightened about driving from the 
safety of her suburban home into 
work, only a mile from the B of A 
World Headquarters seige, but she 
was more afraid of losing her 
chance at the promotion to division 
manager which she knew would be 
decided soon. 

As she entered the building she 
noticed several executives in the 
lobby, glancing furtively toward 
the entrance, urgently discussing 
something. Frieda always made it 
a point to discreetly ignore her 
superiors unless they spoke dir- 
ectly to her. She hadn't lasted this 
long or come this far only to blow 
her chances for further career 
advancement by butting into her 
boss' conversations. 

"Oh Frieda, could you come 
over here, please?" called Frank 
Martin, her boss. "I'd like to 
introduce you to Seymour Taylor. 
You know John Gilles, our general 

"Yes, good morning Mr. Gilles, 
how do you do Mr. Taylor." 

"Ms. Johnson, Mr. Taylor here 


pro re s sec era plc 

is an agent of the FBI. They are 
requesting our help in dealing with 
the terrorist seige at the Bank of 
America buildings. You will help 
him with whatever he needs" said 

"Of course" she replied coolly, 
though she felt apprehensive as 
she always did when working 
around law enforcement officials. 
This wasn't the first time she 
helped out in such a way. The San 
Francisco Police Dept. had a series 
of small booths in which they 
carried out wiretaps. She had felt 
justified in helping them since they 
were primarily used to bust drug 
rings, but more and more in the 
past 3-4 years they served as 
listening posts on political com- 
munications between different 
people and groups. This made her 
feel uncomfortable since it was 
difficult for her to believe in the 
government's claims about the 
dangerousness of these "subver- 
sive organizations." She still re- 
membered the lies of Vietnam and 

Watergate, and the stories about 
McCarthyism her parents told her. 

She took Mr. Taylor of the FBI 
up to the 7th floor. As they walked 
out of the elevator (it was now 
about 9:15 a.m.) Frieda noticed 
immediately that there were only 
about 20 of the usual 53 data entry 
operators at their terminals. She 
decided to get Mr. Taylor settled 
before dealing with the apparent 

They walked down the corridor 
and when they turned the corner 
they both started at the sight. 

"What's the meaning of this?" 
demanded Frieda of the group of 
data entry clerks who were 
gathered together around a desk 
which had a radio transmitting on 

Taylor tried to bolt as soon as he 
saw the group standing around the 
desk, but he and Frieda were 
grabbed by several of the workers 
and put into chairs. 

"Listen!" they commanded. 




This is the voice of Free San 
Francisco, broadcasting from high 
atop the former Bank of America 
building, renamed the Tower of 
Power!... And for now, we have 
the power here in our city. There 
are now 12 buildings under work- 
ers' control, the shipyards and 
Hunter's Point are occupied, the 

didn't know what to make of it 
all—who were these terrorists and 
was it true what they said about all 
the new occupations? "Oh, why 
didn't I stay home today?" she 
wondered to herself. 

"Well, Ms. Johnson, whose side 
will you be on?" asked Joan 

"I wonder if I can sneak home early? I'm half 
asleep already anyway — they'll never miss 

P.G.& E. workers have risen and 
electricity and gas are assurred us, 
Muni workers are operating buses 
and streetcars for free, and we 
have reason to believe that super- 
market and restaurant workers 
along with truck drivers are bring- 
ing in provisions from the Safeway 
distribution center in Richmond. 
Ten different high school and 
university campuses have been 
taken over by students. There are 
thousands of people out on Market 
Street and we 've just been handed 
a Martial Law decree that has 
been dropped on the crowds — 
forceful action is being prepared — 

Listen, everybody who can help! 
Organize yourselves at your work- 
places and in your neighborhoods. 
Arm yourselves! Gather together 
food, water, and weapons. Pre- 
pare to defend yourselves against 
National Guardsmen who will be 
here soon. We will never stand 
alone, call your friends and rel- 
atives and tell them what's going 
on! ... Don't get killed trying to be 
friendly, but remember frater- 
nization is probably our best 
weapon. We must reach and win 
over these troops... 

Taylor squirmed as he tried to 
figure out a way to escape. Frieda 

Chang, an employee of about 8 
months in the data entry center. 
'His?" gesturing with disgust at 
Taylor. "Or ours?" 

"You'll never get away with 
this" said Frieda. 

"Don't be ridiculous, we are 
deciding who's getting away with 
what now" said Walter Fortune, a 
black man with three children who 
had ended up here after being laid 
off from his job as a teacher in San 
Francisco for the second time. 

"He's got a point there, at least 
for now" she thought to herself. 
Frieda had always been "prag- 
matic" (that is, sensitive and 
responsive to power) so she said ' 'I 
guess you're right about that. I can 
say quite honestly that I'm not with 
him and will never be with the FBI 
or the government, though I'm not 
sure if I'm really with you either." 

Walter, Joan, and the others 
broke into smiles. The plain truth 
was that they weren't exactly sure 
if they all agreed with each other. 
They had only been together as a 
work group for a short time. The 
longest anyone had been there was 
a year and a half, but most people 
only lasted a few months before 
they went on to something else. 



The common feeling of isolation 
(which they all shared, each alone) 
was rapidly disappearing and a 
new sense of power was present 
among them. They realized some- 
thing very important was going on 
and that they could be part of it. 
Many felt an almost child-like 

"Let's go make sure they 
haven't cut off the phones!" said 
Walter, and most of them hurried 
off to see what they could do. 

"You'll pay for this, Johnson!" 
threatened Taylor. 

They left him handcuffed to the 
toilet in the men's room on the 7th 

necessary, but no shooting unless 
you are ordered. Your officers have 
been carefully briefed on what 
circumstances justify the use of 
firearms-you will have to rely on 
your crowd control techniques." 

Jimmy Radile listened as the 
colonel tersely outlined their mis- 
sion. He had only joined the 
National Guard about five months 
ago, and already he found himself 
in this important anti-riot unit. 
During his nineteen years growing 
up in Fresno, he had heard about 
riots on TV and they had seemed 
so distant. Now there were riots in 
San Francisco, somehow connect- 
ed to those terrorists in the Bank of 
America buildings, and he was 

Dayglo carpet squares humanize an 
otherwise impersonal office hallway 

"All right men! Our job is to 
clear the streets and seal off 
downtown. The San Francisco 
Police Department SWAT teams 
will be making the actual assaults 
on the buildings held by these 
commie, anarcho-terrorists. We 
are going to assist them as 


going to help restore order. 

After his basic training and a 
few months on weekend-only duty, 
he was called to active duty for this 
special unit. A lot of the guys in the 
outfit were involved with putting 
down the riots in East Los Angeles 
and Watts last summer. Jimmy 


vaguely remembered something 
about Guardsmen shooting un- 
armed citizens and burning some 
houses down with incendiary gre- 

"But everyone was acquitted 
and anyway, those people were 
going crazy! Somebody had to stop 
them before they destroyed the 
city. It was too bad about the 
excesses, but violence can only be 
stopped by stronger violence" he 
remembered his father telling him. 

The briefing ended and the 
Guardsmen went out to the airfield 
and boarded the nine C5-A's which 
would carry them northwest to San 
Francisco. Jimmy's unit, code- 
named 'Red-eater' was scheduled 
to helicoptor from the Alameda 
Naval Air Station over to Crissy 
Field on the north edge of San 
Francisco. From there, fifteen 
platoons of 50 each with a 
machine-gun on a jeep would fan 
out through Fisherman's Wharf, 
Chinatown, Polk Gulch, and over 
Nob Hill towards downtown. 

"Hey! Look at that!" shouted 
one of the soldiers, just as they 
passed over the Bay Bridge in 
Sikorsky helicoptors. Jimmy and 
the others craned their necks for a 
view of downtown San Francisco to 
see what the fellow was gesturing 

milled about. AC Transit buses 
headed out onto the Bay Bridge 
and parked broadside, already 
about six rows deep and growing 
fast. " 'Black-bouncer' (unit 2) 
would have a tough time breaking 
through that logjam even with 
tanks and bulldozers!" thought 

"Look at all those people!" 
exclaimed one soldier. 

"And check out that bus block- 
ade on the bridge! ' ' yelled another. 

"SILENCE!!" bellowed Major 
Bricknell, field commander for the 

"Back to your seats!" he com- 

His stern demeanor was briefly 
animated by the strength of his 
delivery, but he immediately 
lapsed back into the bland gray- 
ness characteristic of career mili- 
tary men. 

Jimmy's eyes quickly scanned 
the others to see if they felt as 
intimidated and fearful as he did. 
Most seemed sullen, but few 
looked as nervous as Jimmy felt. 
His nervousness was greatly in- 
creased by his certainty that 
'Black-bouncer' would never get 
through the bus blockade on the 
bridge. "I wonder what those color 
banners were for?" he thought. "I 
hope they were right when they 


I hope they were right when they 
told us in anti-riot training that most 
people will go home when we get 
there.' ' 

From the top of Transamerica 
Pyramid, the Bank of America 
building, and a few others were 
enormous colorful banners flap- 
ping in the wind. Along the 
waterfront thousands of people 

told us in anti-riot training that 
most people will go home when we 
get there" thought Jimmy, as he 
contemplated the sight of thou- 
sands of people around the water- 



A few minutes later they were 
disembarking at Crissy Field at the 
northern edge of San Francisco 
near the Golden Gate Bridge. It 
was now about 11 o'clock in the 
morning. After about 20 minutes 

namese he used to know in Saigon 
in 1970 in a back street south of 
Market. They were gonna rip 'im 
off but then they recognized each 
other so they settled for the half 
gram of coke he had." Jimmy's 

"Just 20 more minutes... I'.ve gotta look busy 
so no one gives me any more work to do before 
leaving. " 

they all assembled, and set out one 
platoon at a time. Jimmy's pla- 
toon, was the second to the last, of 
fifteen, stretched out eastward on 
Bay St., from Funston field past 
VanNess to Ghiradelli Square. 

They encountered no resistance, 
only a few curious onlookers from 
windows and a few people scurry- 
ing down side streets as they 
passed by. "All honest and patri- 
otic citizens should go home and 
tune in the TV to Channel 7 for 
further information and instruc- 
tions" blared the public address 
system tape on each jeep. "Clear 
the streets! Martial Law is in 
effect! Clear the streets or you are 
subject to arrest!" 

Jimmy walked about 20 ft. ahead 
of his jeep, his automatic rifle 
resting in his arms. He felt like he 
was in a dream-somehow he had 
gotten into a WWII movie but the 
scene was San Francisco. The 
streets were almost deserted while 
he thought about the warm sun on 
his helmet, the cool wind on his 
face, and the blaring speakers 
from the jeep. 

"Hey, I heard there's a bunch 'o 
gooks in this town! My brother told 
me he met up with three Viet- 

consciousness was invaded by the 
nervous babbling of another recent 
recruit, an 18-yr.-old kid from 

"Fuck you! Shut up!" said 
another fellow, even more uptight, 
on the other side of Jerry from 

On they went, turning up Van- 
Ness, past Lombard and Broad- 
way. As they cleared the top of the 
hill at Washington St. they came to 
a sudden halt. Ahead of them from 
one side of VanNess across to the 
other was a solid line of people, 
arms linked, shoulder-to-shoulder. 
And behind the front line were 
thousands more, as far as the eye 
could see, and they were slowly 
advancing down VanNess toward 
platoons 14 and 15 of 'Red-eater'. 

Jimmy was struck by the crowd— 
their earnest, excited expressions. 
These sure didn't seem like the 
raving commie, anarcho-terrorists 
they had been briefed about. 

"This is 'Red-eater'-14/15 to 
'Log Cabin', come in 'Log Cabin'. 
Facing thousands on VanNess, 
please advise course of action." 
The platoon seargent was fran- 
tically radioing in to the major the 
situation of his troops but aid and 



orders were not forthcoming. The 
Major was too busy with the other 
units who were facing similarly 
overwhelming odds. Platoons *1 
and 2 had already been overrun 
and had surrendered without a 
shot down on the waterfront. 

The 100 National guardsmen 
and two jeeps with machine guns, 
stretched across VanNess, couldn't 
withstand the onslaught of these 
thousands, though they could 
exact a terrible price if the platoon 
seargent gave the order to resist 
and fire. As the crowd came within 
a half a block their yells were 
clearly audible: "Don't shoot! We 
are not your enemy! Talk to us! 
Don't shoot! We have no arms! We 
won't hurt you! We are people just 
like you, not terrorists or rioters!" 

Jimmy felt utterly confused, he 
was not prepared for this. Jerry 
from Modesto started crying to his 
right. "I don't wanna kill nobody" 
he sobbed. 

The platoon seargent yelled the 
orders "Use your rifles to hold 
back the crowd— don't let them 
pass." The crowd drew nearer, 
Jerry and six other young recruits 
threw down their guns and ran off 
to the rear, stripping off their 
uniforms as they ran. Jimmy, 
sweating profusely, clutched his 
rifle in front of him. 

There was no more than 10 ft. 
separating the line of Guardsmen 
from the crowd. Jimmy found 
himself face to face with hundreds 
of people. 

"Listen you guys, we want to be 
freel" said a middle-aged fellow 
with thick glasses. 

"Why are you here? Who are 
you defending?!? demanded a 
blond man with an earring in his 
left ear. 

"Wouldn't you like to live in a 
world where you don't have to 
worry about how you're gonna 

make a living, in a world where you 
have the freedom to experiment 
with life?" asked a young woman 
in overalls and a green turtleneck. 

"Wouldn't you like to grow up 
without having to go through ten 
years of traumatic adolescence full 
of insecurity, fear, and sexual 
frustration?" asked a young man, 
not long past his own adolescence, 
only a year or two older than 

By now the crowd was within 
arms reach. 

THWACK!! 44-year-old Don 
Emory, a fireman from Visalia, 
smashed his rifle into the jaw of a 
leather-clad gay man. Immediately 
the crowd surged forward and 
shots rang out. Screams came from 
all around. Jimmy tried to hold the 
crowd back with his gun and began 
swinging it at the people who were 
rushing all around him. 

BAM! BAM! more shots from 
the other side of the crowd. Blood 
was everywhere as Jimmy went 
down, choked from behind and 
pummeled by people all around 

37 people died in the battle of 
VanNess Ave. including 23 
Guardsmen. 115 more were in- 
jured, including most of the cap- 
tured Guardsmen who were se- 
verely beaten before being brought 

to City Hall. 

* * * 

The San Francisco Commune 
lasted for five and half weeks 
before the city was successfully 
retaken by the U.S. Marines at a 
horrible cost in human lives: 
thousands dead and injured. 
Severe civil disturbances rocked 
twelve other cities during 1987, but 
none went quite as far in advanc- 
ing a vision and a social experience 
of a world without institutional 
power, where people worked to- 
gether without bosses and shared 



What To Do In These Emergencies 


□ Don't touch the object. 

□ Report immediately to your supervisor or the police and security 

□ Alert co-workers to keep clear of the area. 

□ When instructed, evacuate the premises. 


□ Listen carefully for descriptive traits of the caller. 

□ Report exact message to your supervisor. 

□ Do not cause unnecessary panic among your co-workers. It may 
be a false alarm. 

Q If necessary, evacuate. 


f ^k Q Notify your supervisor or safety personnel. 

^ J q Remain detached so that the demonstrators do not become more 

WA^A aggressive. 

□ Evacuate, when advised. 

From the Employee Safety Handbook in the Bank of America 

everything without prices or 
money, and where the very idea of 
property actually began to lose 

Jimmy Radile joined the defense 
of the city and had a significant 
role in seizing Crissy Field, the 
battle of Tank Hill in the Haight, 
and the battle of Russian Hill. He 
was killed on the 4th of July when 
the building he was living in in 
Polk Gulch was hit by an air-to- 
surface missile. 

Frieda Johnson was a changed 
woman for three and a half weeks. 
She didn't return to the suburbs 
but stayed on and played a vital 
role in the phone maintenance 
group, and also helped out on 
shore watch. But as the govern- 
ment commandos slowly tightened 
the noose around the liberated 
zone downtown, her temporary 
residence was raided and she 
immediately surrendered, begging 
to be allowed to go home to her 
husband in Belmont. 

The Bank of America buildings 

were retaken finally without firing 
a shot. They had been completely 
gutted by fire and vandalism. As 
the city joined the revolt, the B of 
A employees abandoned the build- 
ings to help in the more general 
efforts. When the commandos 
arrived they were met by some 
sniper fire from a few buildings 
nearby but the Bank of America 
buildings and the surrounding 
blocks in the Financial District and 
near City Hall were deserted. 
Soiled and torn banners hung 
limply from rooftops, and signs 
everywhere proclaiming "Free San 
Francisco" were ripped down by 
the troops. 

Most of the workers (including 
Fred, Jenny, and their friend 
Willie Moreland) survived the 
pacification and were never dis- 
covered as "The" Bank of America 
rebels. They all came to play 
important roles in the following 
years in the snowballing move- 
ment for social liberation. 



Nine To Five directed by Colin Higgins 
story by Colin Higgins, Patricia Res- 
nick, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, 
Dolly Partem __ 

When I went to see the movie 
the day it opened in San Francisco, 
I got the impression that, like me, 
many people in the audience were 
office workers, curious to see how 
the film portrayed a world that was 
very familiar to them. We'd been 
hearing about the movie for weeks, 
thanks partly to Jane Fonda's 
propaganda on its "feminist" 
themes, and its relevance to work- 
ing women. 

The action is instigated by the 
humiliations and frustrations suf- 
fered by women at the hands of 
their male boss. Three secretaries 
work in the same office of a large 
corporation: Dolly Parton, as a 
wholesome, down-home sex-bomb 
with a wholesome, down-home 
husband; Lily Tomlin, as a 
wised-up, hard-working widow 
with a family to support and 
repeatedly frustrated executive 
ambitions; and Jane Fonda, as a 
marm-ish, naive middle-aged div- 
orcee newly thrown into the work- 
ing world when her husband jilted 

J.F. Batellier 


her for his swinging secretary. 

In several all-too-typical se- 
quences we see how these women 
are wronged by their boss, a 
caricature of back-stabbing, slave- 
driving, male chauvinist idiocy. He 
constantly insults and offends his 
underlings and forces them to 
do demeaning favors for him. 
Worse still, he fires one unjustly 

personality goes well with the wry, 
gutsy lines in her part, she delivers 
all her lines in the same flat tone. 
Ostensibly, the movie attacks the 
on-the-job sexist abuses that have 
been important targets for the 
women's movement. But the fas- 
cinations of Parton's figure were 
clearly not lost on the director. The 
way she is filmed, always in 

The film's critique of sexual op- 
pression is as shallow as Parton's 
cleavage is deep. 

and covers for his own incom- 
petence by taking credit for the 
ideas of the Tomlin character, who, 
by contrast, is super efficient and 

From the very beginning, 
though, poignant depictions of the 
miseries of office work are light- 
ened up with absurd exaggerations 
and knee-slapping humor. The 
emotional impact of seeing one's 
own experience more or less 
accurately portrayed as a common 
plight is dissolved in hilarious 
fantasy. Not that zany farce and 
serious social comment can't mix. 
A play like Dario Fo's We Can't 
Pay, We Won 't Pay, performed by 
the S.F. Mime Troupe last year, is 
one example. But socially- 
conscious comedy has to be careful 
of what it makes audiences laugh 
at, and Nine To Five isn't. 

For instance, it doesn't take a 
feminist to see that Dolly Parton's 
casting is a classic case of spec- 
tacular sexploitation. It was clearly 
not Parton's acting that got her 
this role. Although her charismatic 

astonishingly high spiked heels 
and skin-tight tops revealing sev- 
eral inches of cleavage, is cal- 
culated to direct the viewer's 
attention to her voluminous chest. 
In fact, the film's critique of 
sexual oppression is as shallow as 
Parton's cleavage is deep. The 
drooling sex-maniacal boss is mas- 
culine evil incarnate, and Parton, 
despite her provocative dress, is 
merely his upstanding, innocent 
victim. I don't mean to imply that 
women aren't sexually victimized, 
at work and elsewhere. But the 
reality of relations between the 
sexes is a lot more subtle. Sure, 
it's sad and frustrating that women 
can't dress in an even mildly 
"sexy" way, or show warmth and 
openness, without provoking un- 
wanted aggressive come-ons or 
verbal harrassment. On the other 
hand, women are often complicit in 
their own oppression by creating 
and using "sex object" images of 
themselves. But this film doesn't 
help us understand either prob- 



The "fantasy" sequence»~as if 
the whole film wasn't fantasy to 
begin with—are likewise two- 
dimensional. The three women get 
stoned and one by one describe 
how they'd like to avenge them- 
selves on their boss. A potentially 
great device, both for showing the 
deep contradictions in worker's 
feelings about their collective 
plight, and for introducing possible 
resolutions to it, is wasted on silly 
wish-fulfillment . 

Tomlin's fantasy, complete with 
Disney-cartoon animals and Tin- 
kerbelle glitter, at least has the 
grace to admit it's a fairy tale. But 
Parton's fantasy is a simple role 
reversal. She imagines having the 
same power over her boss that he 
holds over her in reality—the power 
to treat him like a slave and 
humiliate him sexually. As though 
we would be any freer if women 
were just as sadistic and sex- 
obsessed as men like him! Fonda's, 
where she appears as a cool slick 
"white huntress" whose bullets 
send video display terminals flying 
satisfyingly apart in showers of 
glass, isn't much better. For one 
thing, her acting is dreadful. 
Throughout the movie, she just 
can't help playing herself, which is 
not what the script calls for. 

According to the hype, Fonda 
was a big mover behind this 
production. She has the reputa- 
tion, especially since teaming up 
with Tom Hayden, of being the 
most "political" of Hollywood 
actresses. That she could have 
insisted on the political value of 
this film is another example of the 
depth of her political thinking:. 
It isn't only that Fonda talked it up 
as feminist when it's so obviously 
sexploitative. The whole plot triv- 
ializes the situation of office work- 
ers, especially the resolution. The 
women kidnap their boss and chain 


him in the bedroom of his mansion, 
while they transform the office to 
their liking. They bring in flowers, 
redecorate in bright colors, intro- 
duce flex-time, a day-care center, 
and an A A program for employees. 
These changes make everyone 
happy and result in a 20% increase 
in productivity, to the great plea- 
sure of the Chairman of the Board. 
The movie ends triumphantly for 
the secretaries when the boss, 
ready to turn them in to the police, 
is forced to acknowledge and 
support the improvements and the 
indispensibility of his secretaries 
in front of the Chairman of the 
Board. As a reward, the boss is 
dispatched to Brazil on a special 
corporate assignment. Justice pre- 
vails and everyone lives happily 
ever after. 

Once again, the problem is not 
so much that this is fantasy, but 
how the fantasy meshes with the 
more "realistic" themes in the 
movie. The way the secretaries go 
about getting what they want is so 
preposterous that top manage- 
ment's eventual benign acceptance 
of their reforms (except for wage 
equality) doesn't seem prepos- 
terous enough. More important, 
though, the film ignores the ways 
in which clerical workers are 
fighting to improve their condition 
in the real world. Instead, it 
focuses on the hilariously improb- 
able adventures of three indiv- 
iduals. In this way it obscures the 
real nature of the conflict hinted at 
in the early scenes— the conflict 
between managers and workers in 
general, between classes. 

The barriers which prevent 
workers from joining to fight for 
their desires, the forces which 
divide them and instill a sense of 
powerlessness and resignation are 
complex and operate at many 
levels at the workplace. They 


involve the structure and nature of 
work itself: wage policies, job 
hierarchies, division of labor, fav- 
oritism, traditional paternalistic 
ideologies, misplaced loyalties and 
fear. The problems of office work- 
ers are not dispelled simply by 
replacing an evil, incompetent 
boss with a benevolent and ef- 
ficient one, even if it is a woman. 
And contrary to the postscripts 
which sketch the futures of the 
three heroines, most clerical work- 
ers are chained to their form of 
employment with little chance of 
escape. Even the fulfilled as- 
pirations of the triumphant sec- 
retaries are basically accomoda- 
tions to the existing set-up: Tomlin 
gets her promotion, Fonda gets 
married again and presumably 
quits the workforce, Parton be- 
comes—guess what?— a country- 
western star. 

Despite its title, Nine To Five 
never questions the fact that most 
of us have to spend forty-plus 

hours a week doing jobs which are 
of no value to us except as a means 
of survival. It criticizes bad bosses 
but not bossdom, bad working 
conditions but not the condition of 
wage-work itself. In this sense, 
maybe the Chairman of the 
Board's acceptance of the reforms 
engineered by the heroines isn't so 
preposterous after all. Daycare 
centers, flex-time, job-sharing and 
pretty offices may cost a little 
more, but if they cut absenteeism 
and stimulate huge increases in 
productivity, management will 
come around all right. 

Finally, what is particularly of- 
fensive about this film is that it 
uses real problems— my problems— 
for purely escapist purposes. By 
presenting conditions which are a 
daily source of anxiety and despair 
to millions (and not only women), 
the film hooks its audience, but 
only to get a laugh. It exploits 
rebellious feelings of an increas- 
ingly important group of workers 












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in a period of rapid change and 
emerging self-consciousness. 

We can watch Nine To Five and 
go home chuckling to ourselves 
thinking about how these sec- 
retaries, whose concerns we can 
identify with, finally get their own. 
But we know very well, even 
though the movie does its best to 

help us forget it, that tomorrow or 
the next day we're going to have to 
go to work just like any other day, 
and the all's-well-that-ends-well 
message has little to do with what 
we will have to face when we get 

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4 'This goddam subway! It's so hot and 
jammed with people. I feel like I've been 
stuffed into a cattle car."